Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Man, the Religious Animal

"Are human beings naturally religious?"  This is a question often invoked when debating issues of religion.  For secularists and non-religious pointing to disparaties in the religiosity of peoples throughout the world and in different cultures religion is merely a social construct which if anything goes against natural inclinations.  Other evidence, such as the survival and prevalance of religion even in states which attempt to repress and extinguish it such as China.

University of Notre Dame's sociology professor, Christian Smith, takes a stab at this question in his article in First Things "Man the Religious Animal".  Smith starts off by re-evaluating what is often meant by "nature". " We need instead to take a realist approach, which observes that everything that exists in reality possesses distinctive characteristics and capacities by virtue of its particular ontological makeup."  In line with this view of nature, Smith goes on to argue that "human beings are naturally religious when by that we mean that they possess, by virtue of their given ontological being, a complex set of innate features, capacities, powers, limitations, and tendencies that give them the capacity to think, perceive, feel, imagine, desire, and act religiously and that under the right conditions tend to predispose and direct them toward religion." These innate characteristics in human nature include the tendency to belief more than can be proved, the desire to recognize and solve problems, the existential condition, and the human need to make "strong evaluations".  This has many implications.  These tendencies that tend to draw individuals to religion does not necessarily signal a great revival of religious practices, but it does make the possibility of complete secularization highly improbable. 

Read Christian Smith's full article in First Things.

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